Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drug Wars

Is unhappiness a disease that can be medicated? I never thought so. But then, I’ve always had a bit of a problem being happy.

Through the past 16 years of struggling with episodes of Major Depression, I always felt that going on a drug would erase my identity and mean I was weak. And I didn’t want to gain a bunch of weight and have deadened sex organs. These seemed like valid concerns…but people in my life kept recommending antidepressants. Recently, when I couldn’t get through a day without hysterical crying sessions, I called a friend in Ithaca who said she’d had a great experience with Lexapro, and I stopped resisting. It felt good to just let go of the burden of depression, give it up to the gods of the pharmaceutical industry. They know what they are doing, right? I even considered that maybe, if it worked out, I should stay on this drug permanently because my regular personality was just no good (as my grandfather once remarked to my dad, during his courtship of my mom: “Have a drink, Dave. You’re no good as you are.”). My regular personality could not hold down a job for long, or earn more than $15 an hour. It ended up single over and over; got a divorce, got knocked up, and had worse meltdowns than my now 2-year-old daughter. My regular personality wanted to drink a bottle of wine per night alone (but didn’t, yet). It had spent its entire 20s studying poetry, and not having enough sex. Accumulating grad school loans! Blowing up my first car, a Chevy Caprice, due to infrequent oil changes! I started envisioning the chemically-altered me as someone who would be “stable,” open her mail more than once every few weeks, create crafts and snowman-shaped pancakes for her child, marry a kind man and be able to stay married.

It was a snap to get Lex prescribed by my family doctor, and the first day of the drugged reality was pretty damn positive. I kept thinking, So this is what normal people feel like…! On the way to the store I got mad at some rude driver, as always, but did not then collapse into tears and consider self-annihilation; instead, I soon bounced back toward a vague cheerfulness. I had more energy and a sense of purpose; I functioned and accomplished shit. It was as if someone had turned a light on inside my brain, and I saw how dark, wet, and sad it had been before.

However, less than two weeks later I decided to wean off and explore the gentle world of yoga, vitamins B and D, and other less drug-induced cures because I couldn’t stand the price that is exacted: the inability to keep a thought in one’s head, complete loss of sexual function and creativity, and flat-lining of all emotions, like I can’t feel any of my feelings and am floating by the ceiling. I know that these drugs have side-effects which typically take four weeks to fade but these features, from what I have read, were not going to go away because they are the main things that such a drug accomplishes: the shutting-down or blunting of one’s feeling centers, which zaps bad feelings and, in the process, any really good ones. No thanks.

Ultimately, feelings are information, I think. We used to utilize them to keep from being attacked by wild boars; now, we modern folk don’t know what to do with them, how to let them offer their valuable, sometimes paradoxical messages and pass through our systems without getting stuck or needing to be escaped from. I’d like to get to the point where I can have a bad day and not need to unwind with a load of fries and wine. Then again, the idea of really not needing fries and wine sounds awfully Zen and slightly creepy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dining Alone

If I could marry a place, I would want it to be The Delachaise, a restaurant on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. And not in the “objectum sexuals” sense—as in folks, usually women, who fall in erotic love with inanimate objects such as the Eiffel Tower, a church banister, or a picket fence. Although I fancy the building itself—its curved, elongated shape, sparkling outside and inside with tiny white lights so that I feel I’m in a cozy, Christmasy train car—it is more than the structure that I want to merge with. Forgivingly dim lighting; decadent, eclectic small plates (the fries, done in goose fat with a creamy aioli, always make reality sting less); wine served in decanters so scents and flavors can unfold over time; cute bartenders, one with a 50s pompadour; a European feeling of sophisticated yet soccer-game-casual privacy that makes me comfortable sitting there alone with a book... Do I really need a reason? I go at least once a week, swallowing my financial guilt, alone and with my latest novel or poetry collection; and have written unsalvageable poetic nothings in a Moleskine while sipping Malbec, eating Shrimp Clemenceau, and eyeing one of the friendly yet beautifully distant staff members. Outside, a lit streetcar bearing tourists glides past every few minutes; the sky grows darker and darker, letting me know that it will soon be time to regretfully take a last sip of wine, close out my tab while flirting slightly and I hope imperceptibly, and hurry to Sara’s daycare to pick her up (Mommy is not drunk...).

At almost 3 years in length, my relationship with The Delachaise is among the longer of my passionate entanglements. It was the first place in New Orleans that my child’s father, now ex, and I ate at—I instantly loved it, his response was lukewarm. We'd traveled down from upstate NY to check out Tulane, where he was considering completing his undergrad degree. I still have a picture on my cell phone from that early March night: reluctant to be photographed, J. is sitting across from me, with his muscly arms crossed on our table, wearing a green “Ithaca is Gorges” shirt. Every time I looked at this image after our return home, it reminded me with a rush of why I was in love with him: this surly, not-to-be-captured sexiness that filled out his T-shirt and watched me guardedly, yet with a melting hint of openness, from across the dark little table.